According to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, it has been the custom in the Nubian kingdom of Kush for the high priests of Amun to terminate a king’s reign by sending him a message ‘from Amun himself’, requesting him to commit suicide. Such a message was sent to King Arkamani I (known in Greek sources as King Ergamenes, r. 295–275 BCE). His Majesty was not pleased with his god’s wish. Rather than complying, as many of his predecessors have most likely done, he led a military expedition into Amun’s august temple on the holy mountain Al-Barkal, sacked the place and slaughtered all the priests.

Subsequently, he made drastic religious, political and cultural changes, downgrading Amun in favour of the local warrior god, Apademek. During his reign, the capital shifted to the city of Meroe, 150 miles south-east of the original capital of Napata. That same period witnessed the replacement of the Egyptian hieroglyphics by a local Meroetic script as the recording script, and in Meroetic language. Unfortunately, this left a gap in history, since the new script was difficult to decipher.

Did the priests really believe that Amun told them to terminate Arkmani’s rule? Arkmani apparently did not think so, and certainly did not care. It is interesting that many of his predecessors, like the illustrious Piye (famous also as Piankhi), who conquered Egypt in 744 BC and ruled it as the founder of the twenty-fifth Egyptian dynasty for thirty years, was fanatically religious. In fact, his conquest of Egypt was done at the behest of Amun’s priests, many of whom had taken refuge in Napata to escape persecution by foreign tyrants at home. In fact, the proclamation of later prominent kings, like Irike-Amannote (431–405 BC), were ecstatic in their religious content and claims of visions of Amun and other gods ‘walking the streets’ in his processions. However, Arkamani, who was a contemporary and a close friend of the Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus (r. 285–246 BCE), and had reputedly been influenced by Greek philosophy, was not that kind of monarch. (Blaming the West, or in this case, boasting Western influence, is an old, and always a good strategy).

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